Toronto's vehicle-for-hire bylaw under review in wake of 'astronomical' growth of Uber, Lyft

Over the next two weeks, Toronto is holding a number of public consultations aimed at reviewing regulations around vehicle-for-hire services including private transportation companies like Uber and Lyft.

City to hold 9 public consultations over next 2 weeks

Toronto is conducting public consultations to review regulations for vehicles-for-hire. (The Canadian Press)

Over the next two weeks, the city of Toronto is holding a number of public consultations aimed at reviewing regulations around vehicle-for-hire services, including private transportation companies like Uber and Lyft.

This comes after the city released last month's numbers showing more than 67,000 drivers were licensed for both ride-hailing services combined.

"The growth has been astronomical, which really tells us that there's really a lot of pent-up demand for this type of service," said Aaron Zifkin, managing director of Lyft Canada.

But the growth has raised a number of concerns about traffic congestion and safety on the roads. 

And at least one taxi company is calling for a complete overhaul of a 2016 bylaw, which scrapped a mandatory 17-day training course, including CPR and first-aid, in an effort to include private transportation drivers.

"By removing that training while inviting all of these people — many of them from outside of Toronto — to cruise our streets, it's increasing our risk exponentially," Kristine Hubbard, operations manager at Beck Taxi, told CBC Toronto.

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Uber, Lyft blamed for traffic congestion

Hubbard adds that ride-hailing cars are "clogging" the streets, contrasting the tens of thousands of drivers registered with companies like Lyft and Uber compared to the approximately 5,000 licensed taxis on the road.

"Sixty or 70,000 drivers means 60 or 70,000 vehicles on our city streets," she said.

She's urging the city to put a cap on the number of private transportation licences allowed, following in the footsteps of a historic decision by New York city council last month, which capped them at 80,000.

Kristine Hubbard, the operations manager for Beck Taxi, says city council 'dropped the ball' in 2016 when it scrapped a mandatory 17-day training course for all vehicle-for-hire drivers. (John Lesavage/CBC)

Overall, she describes the decisions made by city council in 2016 as "irresponsible" and "disgusting."

"In an attempt to be innovative and trendy the city has completely dropped the ball," Hubbard stated.  

City 'missed the boat' in 2016, says Layton

Coun. Mike Layton says he was in the minority who voted against dropping mandatory training for drivers.

"It's certainly something that I think city council missed the boat on," said Layton, who represents Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina.

And when it comes to congestion and putting a cap on private transportation drivers, he says the city needs more cooperation from Uber and Lyft.

"The platforms are really reluctant to share their information with us, so it's very difficult for us to get a good idea of what that 70,000 number actually means," he explained.

"Is it 70,000 cars at rush hour on Bay Street, or is it 70,000 cars over the course of a month?" he asked.

Lyft alleviating congestion, Zifkin says

Aaron Zifkin, Lyft's managing director for Canada, says his company is continuing to hire new drivers to keep up with his service's 'astronomical' growth. (CBC)

When it comes to the upcoming consultations, Zifkin insists his company is looking forward to partnering with the city to come up with solutions.

He says Lyft is helping to alleviate traffic congestion by offering a carpool service and getting people to public transit — pointing out that Union Station is one of Lyft's top pick-up and drop-off zones.

As for safety, Zifkin says the company conducts annual criminal background checks, as well as checks on driving records.

Dates and times for the public consultations can be found here.

With files from Greg Ross and John Rieti